The Department of Justice finally published the number of crimes alleged on cruise ships for 2023 after failing to do so all of last year. We reported several times last year on the failure to reveal the number of crimes, particularly sexual assaults which continue to be the most prevalent crimes on cruise ships.

The CVSSA and Reporting of Crimes on the High Seas

The Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act (CVSSA) of 2010 requires cruise ships calling on U.S. ports to report certain shipboard crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The CVSSA was the result of the efforts of the International Cruise Victims (ICV) which is a grass-roots organization created in 2006. The IVC was successful in convincing Congress, for the first time in the history of the cruise industry, to require the mandatory reporting by the cruise lines of certain crimes which occur on cruise ships. Under the CVSSA, cruise lines are obligated to report homicides, suspicious deaths, physical assaults resulting in serious bodily injuries and sexual crimes outlined in 18 U.S.C. 2241, 2241, 2243 and 2244.

After initially requiring the FBI to report the crimes to the United States Coast Guard, the CVSSA now requires cruise lines to report the crimes to the Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT was tasked with posting the crime data on a quarterly basis on a spreadsheet located on an internet portal which you can see here.

The purpose of the public disclosure of mandatory reporting of sexual assaults, assaults with serious bodily injuries, missing U.S. nationals and deaths on cruise ships is to educate and warn the traveling public of dangers on cruise ships.

The DOT Failed to Report a Single Cruise Ship Crime in 2023

For reasons not clear to us, the DOT refused to release a single crime alleged to have occurred on a cruise ship in 2023. On January 6, 2024, the DOT finally disclosed crimes on cruise ships as required by the CVSSA for the first nine months in 2023. You can see the individual statistics for the the first quarter, second quarter and third quarter of 2023. A few observations about these statistics:

Carnival Cruise Line Has the Most Violence on its Ships Leading to Serious Bodily Injury

The DOT reported nine (9) incidents of physical assaults against passengers leading to “serious bodily injury” on Carnival Cruise line ships for the first three quarters of last year.

Disney Cruise Line reportedly had five (5) incidents of physical assault with serious bodily injury on its four ships. This is a bit surprising as the typical violence on cruise ships, at least in part, is due to the excessive alcohol served to guests which typically does not occur on Disney ships which cater to kids and family vacations.

No other cruise line experienced more than one (1) physical assault against a passenger last year.

Over the years, we have reported on numerous out-of-control bar fights on Carnival ships. Two weeks ago, we reported on a criminal case brought against a passenger named Michael Truman who viciously attacked another guest on the Carnival Magic. According to a local newspaper article, the victim was walking out of a theater on the ship to look for a crew member to remove Mr. Truman after asking him multiple times to quiet down. Truman reportedly struck the victims in the face with a bar glass. Truman then reportedly climbed on top of the victim and continued striking him, leaving facial lacerations that required 19 stitches, an affidavit in the court file reads.

There’s a direct correlation between excessive alcohol and violence (bar brawls) and violence against female guests (rape) on cruise ships. Carnival’s higher rate of physical assaults can be traced to overserving its customers alcoholic drinks to pad its profits and to pay its bar servers who work on gratuities and tips. Carnival also has a per capita rape rate higher than many states in the U.S. (as discussed below).

Sexual Crimes on Cruise Ship on the High Seas Are Increasing

For the first nine months of 2023, there were ninety-seven (97) “sexual assault and rapes* reported by cruise lines to the DOT. This number exceeds the number of sexual assaults reported by cruise lines in all of 2022 when there were eighty-nine (89) sexual assaults.

(*In 2023, the DOT began listing two separate categories – “sexual assault” and “sexual assault – rape”).

Carnival Cruise Line Has More Sexual Assaults and Rapes Than Any Other Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line reported thirty-six (36) such incidents for the first three quarters of the year, including thirty-one passengers who were attacked (the remainder were identified as crew members or “unknown”). Prorated for the rest of the year, the number of sexual assaults and rapes on Carnival Cruise Line ships would be forty-eight (48).

To place the sexual crimes on Carnival Cruise Line ship in perspective, thirty-one (31) such crimes were reported occurring on this cruise line’s ships in all of 2022. The prorated number of sexual crimes on Carnival ship in 2023 would reflect an increase of over 50% from the number in 2022.

There were forty-five sexual assaults on Carnival ships reported in all of 2019 – the last full year before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the cruise industry down in 2020. Thirty-eight passengers were sexually assaulted during that year. Seven crew members reported being sexually assaulted in 2019. Carnival Cruise Line is on track to exceed the number of sexual crimes last year compared to 2019.

Washington Post – “Sexual Assaults On Cruise Ships Are Rising”

The Washington Post published an article yesterday which accurately reports that sexual assaults on cruise ships are increasing. But the newspaper does a disservice by arguing that the crimes “represent less than 1 percent of the tens of millions of passengers who take cruises each year.” The Post ignores the reality that crime statistics and crime trends are based on a per capita basis (i.e., per 100,000 people), not on the total population of cruise guests over the course of a year. The number of sexual assaults and rapes calculated on a per capita basis is significant and illustrated the importance of the mandatory reporting of these alleged crimes.

An Accurate Look At Cruise Crime Statistics

Cruise line crime statistics first became public after Congress passed the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) into law. Over the cruise industry’s objections, the CVSSA required cruise lines to report, for the first time, crimes that occur on cruise ships. In the Congressional hearings leading up to the new law, cruise industry representatives from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) tried to completely avoid reporting shipboard crimes. Later, when it became clear that Congress would mandate the reporting of crime on cruise ship, CLIA attempted to water-down its crime rates by presenting misleading data to Congress based on the total number of passengers who had sailed on cruise ships over the course of a year.

CLIA argued that cruise ship crime rates should be based on the total number of people cruising in any year (around 31,500,000 cruised last year) rather than the average number of people populating cruise ships on any given day.  By analogy, the per capita crime statistics for U.S. cities are calculated based on the number of residents in a city. Tourists who visit the city during the year are not counted as residents. Imagine how the crime statistics for New York City would be diluted if instead of calculating crime rates based on the number of residents in the city (approximately 8 million), this number was inflated to include the hordes of tourists (more than 30 million people) who visit the city annually.

Congress rejected CLIA’s argument and concluded that per capita cruise crime statistics should be calculated based on the average number of passengers sailing at a particular time, not on the annual number of passengers.

Carnival Cruise Line Has A Higher Per Capita Sexual Assault Rate Than Most States

Using Congress’ methodology to determine sexual assault rate results in a per capita rate for Carnival Cruise Line of over 42 (42.239) per 100,000. (We will report the actual per capita rate for Carnival ships when the DOT releases the data for the last quarter of 2023). This number is calculated by taking the prorated number of sexual assaults (48) on Carnival ships reported to the FBI in 2023 and dividing it by the total number of people on Carnival’s fleet of ships at any one time (around 75,000 passengers and approximately 33,500 crew members for a total of 108,500).

The per capita rate of sexual assaults on Carnival ships of over 42 per 100,000 is significant. It is a higher per capita sexual assault rate than twenty-eight states, including Florida (30 per 100,000) California (37.4) and New York (29.4).

Carnival Cruise Line Continues to Try and Downplay the Problem of Rape On Its Ships

Carnival Cruise Line’s chief communications officer, Chris Chiames, sent an email to the Washington Post claiming that Carnival’s higher sexual assault number is allegedly because it was “reporting on the operations of a much bigger fleet, more guests and more U.S. operations than any of our competitors . . . ”

Carnival’s PR representative is trying to bamboozle the Post and mislead the public. The truth of the matter is that Royal Caribbean had a total of more guests who sailed throughout 2023 (6 million) on its ships than Carnival Cruise Line which sailed 5.5 million guests last year. Although the CVSSA requires the reporting of crimes which occur only when the cruise ship calls on a U.S. port, both Carnival and Royal Caribbean report crimes which are alleged to occur during cruises which do not call on U.S. ports.

Carnival Cruise Line also has the same number of cruise ships as Royal Caribbean (each now owns 27 ships). But Royal Caribbean has larger cruise ships with greater capacity and carries more passengers than Carnival at any given time. Royal Caribbean carries a maximum of around 125,000 passengers. Carnival Cruise Line has a maximum of around 75,000 passengers.

Many Passengers Don’t Report Rapes on Cruise Ships

The per capita sexual assault rate of over 42 per 100,000 on Carnival ships may actually be higher than this. These calculations assume that Carnival cruise ships are sailing at maximum capacity. Additionally, the definition of sexual assault under CVSSA is very restrictive and includes only a relatively small portion of the acts which would be deemed to constitute a sexual assault ashore. There has also been widespread criticism that the cruise lines often under-report the crimes which occur on their ships. Many victims, of course, are hesitant to report a violent crime like rape, particularly on a cruise ship which has no independent law enforcement officials aboard.

One-Third of Sexual Assault Victims Are Children

When the issue was being debated before Congress, before the CVSSA was enacted in 2010, the cruise lines lobbied to avoid disclosing the sexual crimes where a child was victimized. But testimony before Congress and media reports clearly indicates that approximately one-third of victims are minors. The CVSSA data does not include any indication when a minor is sexually assaulted. Cruise line like to keep that secret.

The CVSSA data disclosed last week indicates that there are reports that ten sexual assaults and rapes of passengers occurred on Disney Cruise ships in the first nine months last year. It is reasonable to ask whether several of these sexual assault victims were children.

Sexual Predators Are Emboldened by the Cruise Industry’s Indifference to the Problem of Shipboard Sexual Assault

The fact cruise passengers are clearly more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted on a Carnival Cruise Line ship is obscured by misleading references to the total amount of people who cruise annually. It’s not an effective warning to talk about Carnival carrying 5.5 million passengers a year when the company’s per capita sexual assault rate is higher than the average of most U.S. states.

Cruise lines like Carnival tried to mislead Congress when the CVSSA was being enacted back in 2010 and are still trying to confuse reputable newspapers like the Washington Post by claiming that the high crime rates can simply be explained away by the high number of passengers who cruise each year.

As I explained in one of the best articles I wrote thirteen years ago when I started this blog, the cruise industry routinely misleads the public that by claiming that cruising is the safest place to travel and take a vacation. Read:

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January 15, 2024 Update:

A good example how mainstream cruise bloggers are handling the DOT cruise crime data is Doug Parker’s Cruise Radio. The popular cruise blogger writes: “Carnival Cruise Line, with 26 ships carrying 5.5 million guests, reported 36 incidents . . . ” Despite the accurate title of “2023 Experienced Surge in Crimes on Cruise Ships,” the article downplays and minimizes the crimes writing: “while the number of alleged sex crimes increased, it is less than 1% of the millions of cruise guests who board ships each year.”

Crime statistics, either on cruise ships or ashore, are typically calculated on a per capita basis (i.e., per 100,000 people). Per Capita rates are essential to accurately determining crime trends. Cruise Radio does not address this basic fact, and instead compares the crimes to the many people who cruise each year. The fact is that Carnival Cruise Line has a total population at any given time of only a little over 100,000 guests and crew members (108,500), which results in a current (prorated) per capita rate of slightly over 42 per 100,000. (We will update this information when the DOT reports on the sex crimes reported in the fourth quarter of 2023).

Image credit: Carnival Magic in Norfolk, VA- Jim Walker.